Friday, February 22, 2019

Maryland - Day 17

Cherry Hill Park
Sunday, 17 February 2019

I confess: I've gotten sloppy and the result is that I've lost a day.  This day.

Each day I travel I write down the route I want to take and what I want to see at each point.  I also keep a pad of paper in the console in the cab and write down sights and impressions and thoughts as I drive, because I forget them almost immediately through being interested in the next thing along.  Even when I spend a day in one spot I often take notes so I'll know what I've done.  I've found with these aids I can recreate the day in my own mind well enough to keep this blog as detailed as I want.

Until today.  Which seems to be lost in my mind.

I've been puzzling over why I've had such a dramatic reaction to the driving challenges lately - mostly bridges, but also wanting to avoid the mountains in western MD and having trouble with the fast-paced city traffic and one-way streets yesterday in Baltimore.  And I think I've figured it out: it's because of the vehicle I'm driving.

My first car was a Volvo 1800E - Volvo's sports car in the '70s.  Next was a VW Superbeetle - I had that one for 17 years.  Then for a few months I had a Honda Accord that I hated and dumped for a Miata.  (Do you see a trend here?)  I had the Miata for 11 years and sold it only because I'd acquired a 2nd largish dog and couldn't fit 2 in the 2-seater Miata.  I traded it in for a SAAB 9³ - the biggest car I owned.  Then I had a Mini for a few years, and finally drove my mom's Honda Civic for 5 or 6 years.  Then I got this RV.  That car-owning history was absolutely no preparation for RV ownership.

The RV is easy enough to drive - that's not the problem.  But it's much wider than my other vehicles so I'm always having to worry about where both sides are, and where my side windows are.  I have to worry about the height, not just for overpasses but also for tree branches - not something I ever thought of in a car.  I always prized visibility in my cars but now don't have much, even with a back-up camera, which anyway I can't always see and even when I can it doesn't show what's at the sides of the rear and neither do the rear-view mirrors.  Of course it's much longer than any car I owned.  And I worry about the bulk which catches the wind in ways cars don't do.  It's true my light little cars could and did get shoved around sometimes, but it's like the difference for a sailboat when the sail's down or it's up in terms of how much shoving the wind can do to the RV.

When I was married, I drove Pete's pick-up truck all the time, including on snow and ice because that was in Alaska.  It's not that I've never had experience with adverse driving conditions.  But for some reason, the conditions here in Maryland are defeating me.

I don't like heights, but I've driven across that yucky bridge in Corpus Christi over the Intracoastal Waterway many times.  I hated those mountains in western PA, but I still drove on them - coming and going.  I've driven the narrow streets in old old Philadelphia and down narrow country lanes I had no business being in; I had trouble getting out unscathed but I did.

And now I've been completely unnerved by that Bay Bridge.  I really don't think I'd have had such a dramatically viceral reaction to the bridge across the Patuxent River on Friday if I hadn't been so wiped out by the Bay Bridge.  Knowing there are so many other people who feel the same way that someone has an actual flourishing business driving people's cars across the bridge for them doesn't make me feel any better.

I've still chosen to spend 4+ years on the road, and in the US the roads include mountains and bridges of various kinds.  I have to figure out a way to keep that bridge from limiting the next 3 years of my travels.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Maryland - Day 16 - Baltimore

Cherry Hill Park
Saturday, 16 February 2019

David and Anna sent me a care package from Texas to this campground that included my mail and 2 Valentines and - best of all - a loaf of Pecan Bread from the Collin Street Bakery in Corsicana!  Most wonderful stuff in the world.  For those who don't know, that bakery is known worldwide for its fruitcakes and has received mail addressed to "Fruit Cake, Texas."  Now, Texas has its share of fruit cakes (of various types), but this little bakery is IT.  And its Pecan Bread is my favorite.  Hard to beat my luck in having such a thoughtful family.
today's route
I was still a little tired from yesterday's drive, but tomorrow's forecast includes possible snow so I figured I'd better take advantage of today's non-snow to go see things.  Baltimore has quite a few places I'd like to visit so the challenge was to come up with an itinerary that was possible but not punitive.

My main goal was the Baltimore Museum of Industry, and I'd charted a route that would at least take me past several other places, even if I was too tired to check them out.  But it turns out that Baltimore is only a half hour or so away from the campground so I got to the Museum an hour before it opened.  I decided to run by the other places while I waited.

National Visionary Art Museum
I'd never heard of this place but the outside is so lighthearted, it made me wish I had the time and energy to visit.  That Christmas tree on the right is still there - it's not just a seasonal thing.  This building is in an area that's part industrial and part condo/apartment, with glimpses through the buildings of Baltimore's Inner Harbor.  And then, suddenly, this amazing building.  This is an internet photo.

USS Constitution
Old Ironsides
It really wasn't possible for me to just stop to take a photo - even at 9:00 there was a lot of traffic.  Baltimore is full of one-way streets (traps for the unwary) and sudden commands to turn left only when I didn't want to turn left.

But I was lucky and got a red light right in a place where I could get almost this exact view of the ship (this is another internet photo).  This ship was launched in 1797 and is still able to sail under its own power.   This web page explains all about the ship and its history.  That's not a reproduction, as I'd expected given its age, but instead the original ship.  The wiki page says it's usually berthed in Boston, but the ship's museum says this is the original here in Baltimore.

I next tried to find the Babe Ruth Museum and Camden Yards and had fairly detailed directions.  Unfortunately, I turned on the wrong street and ended up on my way back to College Park on a high speed highway for miles before I could find a way to get off.  That really shook me up (I'm still feeling the effects of that stupid bridge from yesterday) so when I got back to the industry museum, I counted myself lucky and parked.  The dogs were happy, anyway, because I took them for a walk.

Baltimore Museum of Industry
explains the crane
crane from Bethlehem Steel's repair dock
In my crane photo, the museum is on the right, and the parking lot exit is through the crane's uprights.  A little intimidating.

The museum extols the extraordinary energy and creativity that has come from the city of Baltimore over the years, and it's even more interesting than I'd expected.

Just inside the entrance is an introduction to the factors that brought about this vibrant history.

Past these signs are others that talk about the history of canning to preserve food, a history that seems to center on Baltimore.  All the following information is from the museum.

At the beginning of the 1800's food was preserved by sealing glass jars with cork and tar.  By the 1820s the jars were being replaced with tin-plated canisters ("cans") that were made by hand.  A skilled laborer could make 60 cans/day.  In the 1840s and '50s, can makers were gradually being replaced by machines that made up to 1,500/day.  By the 1880s, the industry was fully automated, despite protests and strikes from preempted can makers.

In the 1850s Baltimorean Isaac Solomon appropriated Sir Humphrey Davy's idea of adding calcium chloride (salt) to water, which raised the boiling point to 240°.  This allowed the cooking time of oysters (the prime food product of the region at the time) to go from 5-6 hours down to 30-40 minutes.  Although this innovation increased production, the process was still something of an art, requiring skilled laborers.
an original retort with cans

That situation changed in 1874 when Baltimorean Andrew Shriver invented a steam retort that allowed cooking time to be standardized.  From there, the food processing industry exploded.  Baltimore, on the edge of farming country, received truckloads of fresh vegetables that were processed, in addition to the boatloads of oysters and other seafood from the Bay.

Usually the cannery workers were immigrant women and children or black men who weren't hired for more prestigious jobs.  The museum had many photographs of the canneries and workers, showing they were the ones peeling the tomatoes, snapping the beans, shucking the oysters and packing them in cans - no machines.  The workers said the smell in the packing plants could get pretty bad.  (No kidding.)

Baltimore Firsts:
▫  The first umbrella factory in the US was founded in 1828 in Baltimore; by the 1900s Baltimore was the umbrella capital of the world
Baltimore umbrella factory

▫ Baltimore was home to the first gas company in the US (1816).

▫ The Stieff Sterling Co., founded in 1892 in Baltimore, was the oldest continually operating silver co. in the US until its closing in 1999.  In 1939 it was chosen to recreate 18th century silver for Colonial Williamsburg.

▫ The B&O Railroad (1827) was the first railroad to be built in the US and the first to carry paying passengers.  It ran from Baltimore to the Ohio River at Wheeling, WV, and was the first to connect the Atlantic Ocean and the Ohio River.  It was 380 miles of double track, and cost 25 years and $30 million to build.
Crown Cork bottle cap

▫ The modern bottle cap was invented and first made by William Painter, a Baltimore machinist, maker of the Crown Cork; he said inventing the capping machine was harder than inventing the cap.

▫ The Bendix Radio Co. had a number of firsts all by themselves.

▫ Maryland Paper Products, in its Sweetheart brand division, created individually wrapped "sanitary" paper straws and became the world's largest producer.

▫ In 1897 the first practical modern submarine was launched in Baltimore; its design was based on the Nautilus in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

▫ The Black & Decker Co. was founded in 1910 in Baltimore; in 1916 it produced the first portable ½" electric drill.  This drill was used extensively in WWII, helping make Rosie the Riveter famous and Black+Decker™ a post-war household name.
▫ In 1910, mercurochrome was invented in Baltimore.  It got me through my childhood but has apparently recently fallen into disrepute.  Sad.

▫ In 1939 Westinghouse (after it moved to Baltimore from Pittsburgh) developed radar which was used in WWII to warn of enemy planes; it detected the oncoming Japanese planes at Pearl Harbor, but the higher-ups thought they knew better and ignored it.  In 1953 they developed doppler radar which is the basis for all today's airborne radar.

▫ In 1950, a Baltimorean created the world's first aluminum ski. 

▫ These photos illustrate some of the other firsts for Baltimore.

I was in the museum for more than an hour and a half and passed up several exhibits because I didn't want to leave the critters much longer, and anyway it was lunchtime.  I couldn't have imagined one city would be able to produce so much inventiveness.

The sign explains that this cupola was for years on a grand piano factory here, and from 1869 to 1930s the pianos were sent all over the world for such musicians as Tchaikovsky, Puccini and Rubinstein.

From the museum parking lot where we ate lunch I had a good view of this Domino Sugars sign, though this isn't my photo.  Apparently this factory is still functioning here.

The parking lot is also used by people with sailboats docked here.  I was surprised to see the first, and then the second arrive and don protective clothing, but they kept coming.  I'll bet I saw a dozen people altogether head for the boats while I was there - and this was a very cold, windy day with no sun to speak of.  Those Baltimoreans are hardy folks.

On the way out of town I drove by Camden Yards, mostly because it wasn't very far from the museum.  I guess it's lucky it isn't baseball season because the streets here are fairly narrow.  (It's the Camden neighborhood.)
Camden Yards
On the way back to the campground I took a slight detour past Laurel Racecourse.  They had horseracing today, and I'd have liked to stop off for a bit but parking was a tricky and anyway I was tired.  Opened in 1911, it's owned by the Maryland Jockey Club, founded 1743, the oldest sporting organization in America.  These folks also own Pimlico Racecourse, opened in 1870 and host of the Preakness.

It felt like a long day but I was glad to be able to dodge winter weather and see as much of Baltimore as I did. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Maryland - Day 15 - the drive north

Cherry Hill Park, College Park
Friday, 15 February 2019
today's route
I decided I'd go east today, across the Patuxent R. and up the Calvert Peninsula (it covers Calvert County).  I knew I wouldn't be coming back down to this part of the state and wanted to see as much as I could.  I got more than I bargained for.

But first the Confederate cemetery was on the way, and I saw several cars + drivers in the parking area of the alternative park.  In fact, almost every time I've gone down this road I've seen people there.  A popular site, I guess.  I found additional information about it in this article. 

Just north of California I turned east for the Pax River bridge.  At first, it looked like a normal, ordinary ol' bridge, but without warning, it became something not ordinary.

I looked it up later: the bridge is 1.37 miles long.  I copied this off the wikipedia page:  The bridge, carrying two lanes and no shoulders, rises to a height of approximately 140 feet (43 m) tall, making a trip over the bridge in windy weather somewhat nerve-wracking for travelers. From the top of the bridge, one can see the entire town of Solomons, the runways at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, and the Chesapeake Bay

I just wanted to prove I'm not the only one who thinks this bridge is scary.  I think the scariest part for me was that it has no real side barriers - just a wall that's about waist-high and sure wasn't very high to me in the RV.  There was no other lane I could use for fudge room - only one lane each direction and no shoulder at all.  

I got to the other side and pulled off the road at the very first opportunity and parked at some business's lot and sat and shook.  The shakes lasted quite a while before I felt I could even keep on driving.  They didn't go away altogether until this afternoon.  It was a terrifying experience.

So what's up with Maryland and its bridges?  Are these people just really tough or something?  And if so, what does that make me, a native Texan?  Just thinking about that bridge now makes my palms sweat.

I would have expected the land up the peninsula to be pretty flat, being right on the Chesapeake Bay and all - I'd have figured the glaciers and prehistoric water levels would have flattened it.  Instead what I found was some rolling hillside and farmland.

I passed a field with an obviously handmade sign saying: Free Field Grass - U Cut.  Was this guy asking someone to go mow his field?

All the way up the peninsula and into the Washington, DC, metro area I was looking for someplace that would sell me a milkshake.  I don't usually buy them but decided it might help ease the continuing shaky feeling I had (unintentional pun).  All I could find were Mexican restaurants so finally gave up on that idea.  But instead of doing some sightseeing as I'd planned, I decided to go straight to the campground.

This new place is $65/night with the AAA discount and, for once, is almost worth the price.  It's set up like a high-end KOA and really large.  I'm guessing that it's completely packed in the summer with families visiting DC.  It's almost right on the Beltway, that we keep hearing Washington politicians can't think outside of.  For even more convenience, there's a Metro stop right here at the park - the public buses come into the park and turn around and wait at the little station right by the campground office.

Not only do I have a wifi signal, this time the park is actually paying for it.   I can get 56 TV channels (not that I care about 50 of them but much better than none), so morning weather reports are back in my life.  It's a lot of money, but it's buying some convenience that I really needed right now.

Of note: one year ago today I moved into the RV permanently.  The critters and I (different cats, though) went off to a long weekend at Buescher State Park, near Austin.  And it kept going from there.

Maryland - Day 14 - Lexington Park

Lookout Point State Park
Thursday, 14 February 2019

Happy Valentine's Day!

I went back to a different part of the shopping center where I'd hung out a few days ago and got back on the internet.

I posted a couple of days of the blog I hadn't been able to post in the campground.  I checked the weather for tomorrow's drive.  I plotted 2 alternate driving routes for tomorrow.

I checked to see when the Naval Air Museum would open and learned that their focus is primarily research & development of aviation devices.  The biggest draw is likely the flight simulator (for which you pay an extra charge).  The thing is that I just wasn't in the mood for a bunch of technical stuff that I was sure would require an Everest-steep learning curve for me.  And since I'm only just now getting over being rattled by that Bay Bridge experience, I didn't figure this was the best time for a flight simulator.  Even with the reduced entrance fee for seniors, I just couldn't get excited about paying $7 for this - not right now.  Maybe another time.  Especially if I knew a 12-year-old to go with me.

Instead, I caught up on current events (nothing much new, really), walked the dogs, ate lunch, and drove back to St. Mary's City where I knew we could use the historical site for walking (better than shopping centers).

Back at St. Mary's City, I learned that the Old State House was the New State House in 1676.  By the time Maryland moved its capital to Annapolis in 1695, St. Mary's City was the state's most populous town, with about 200 year-round residents. 

The historic village seems to be part of St. Mary's College of Maryland, which is a public honors college.  That's something I'd never heard of, probably because it was 35 years ago in Alaska that I was listening to my stepchildren make college choices, so I looked it up.  www.what-is-an-honors-college  The college seems to be about half the town, and I think it's part of the University of Maryland.  Extensive campus, attractive buildings.

Much better weather than when we were here the other day, but still quite cold for walking.

Maryland - Day 13

Point Lookout State Park
Wednesday, 13 February 2019

I slept almost 10 hours last night, which I never do, so I guess I needed it.  The sun is out today and, though it is by no means warm, it’s still good for raising spirits.

For some reason, this campsite doesn’t even pick up the TV signal I could get in the previous site that was more closed in.  So no morning weather report and still no wifi signal.  Fortunately I do have some cell phone reception so called my brother to be sure at least somebody knows where to start looking for my body if I should disappear.

I’ve paid for this campground until Friday morning so will go ahead and stay here 2 more nights, but I won’t be coming back here after visiting the Baltimore/Annapolis area as I’d intended.  This campground hasn’t even got a bathroom, let alone a shower.  And combined with the other lacks, it’s just not a very inviting place for me this time of year.  The other camper down the road seems happy so must have a different wifi provider and a satellite dish, because they seem completely dug in.  But if I come back here, it won’t be in the winter.

I made a reservation at one of the expensive private campgrounds in the Baltimore/Annapolis area beginning Friday and will play the rest of the month by ear.

Now that the sun’s out, I’m more willing to take the dogs for longer walks.  I’m sure there’re deer in the area because the dogs both keep alerting when we’re out, which is a nuisance.  Oddly, one time Gracie alerted and Dexter got excited only because of Gracie – he never did find what she found, I could tell.

I am once again glad I brought plenty of books and DVDs.  As long as I’ve got a plug-in, I can use the video player, and even without it I’ve got the books.  I told David to call me if a war breaks out, but short of that can forego daily knowledge of current events.  What I can’t easily do is plan my future travels.  I’ll go tomorrow to see about visiting the Naval Air Museum and spend a little time in a parking lot somewhere to check the weather and a driving route for Friday.  Meanwhile, we’re all okay.

For our afternoon walk, I took the dogs along the Periwinkle Point Trail, marked on the campground map and having an access point not far from our site.  The map said we didn’t have to walk the whole trail but could get off at either of the next door (closed) camping loops.  

The trail turned out to be a narrow avenue between towering walls of grasses, up to 9’ or 10’ tall.  The only trees were pines and not many of those.  I could see trunks of what once were something other than pines but had all been snapped in two.  I’m guessing a strong storm took out everything but the pines – or maybe even the pines too but they’ve grown back faster – and the grasses of course crowded in.  Along the trail there was also access to some large body of water, that the map later told me was Point Lookout Creek.  But the map also says the “creek” is the same size as nearby Lake Conoy that nearly surrounds part of the campground, so either they’ve underestimated the creek or overestimated the lake.  At any rate, there’s an awful lot of water around.

After walking for a while I started paying attention to footprints on the muddy path.  I’m certain some were from deer.  Others I’m not so sure about and wished I had a naturalist with me to tell me what I was looking at.

The map lied.  There were no access points to the other camping loops. The first chance we had to get off the trail was at the Civil War Museum (still closed), where there was also a sign saying no dogs allowed.  And I thought fine, just challenge me about bringing my dogs here and I’ll tell you to show me where exactly those other alleged access points were.  But nobody was around.  I know there’re supposed to be park rangers around here, and I see them out on the main road, but I never see them here in the campground and feel really isolated.  The folks in that other camper keep completely to themselves, so I can go all day without seeing another person.  Felt really creepy when the weather was bad and the clouds were at ground-level; feels okay in the sunshine; but I can’t say I really like it.

I’d started thinking we’re lucky not to be here during mosquito season, and then I saw a notice on the camp bulletin board that they’ve put larvae-killing pellets in the standing water ponds around here.  They don’t say anything about West Nile virus, for instance, but I’ll bet they’re worried.  Southern Maryland’s in the neighborhood.

On the way back to the campsite I heard a chickadee, but the song was different from the chickadee sound I’m used to in Texas.  At first it was just saying “chick-a-dee” and saying it in a sweeter, higher tone than I’d expect.  After a bit it finally started in with “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” so I was reassured.  Never did see it but the song was definitely different, so I looked it up in the bird book and, sure enough, it said a Carolina Chickadee sounds just like what I heard.  The bird book says that's the kind of chickadee we got in Texas, and I don't know why it'd sound so noticeably different, but it did. 
Carolina Chickadee

Maryland - Day 12 - errands & history

Point Lookout State Park
Tuesday, 12 February 2019

By this morning, I'd already learned several unpalatable truths: I don't have a wifi signal at this campground - either from the campground or on my hotspot; I would be out of dog food by suppertime; I was coming very close to empty on the propane tank; and I didn't want to stay in that particular campsite even one more night as I'd had nightmares about it last night.  All those things meant, like it or not, I'd have to move today.

The nightmares were weird.  They were partly based on this campsite being very near the county road, which I hadn't expected until I got there and could easily hear the cars going by.  It made me feel vulnerable, because there's almost nobody in this campground either.  Just one other camper, but that site is about as close as the county road.

And the nightmares were partly based on the veritable swamp that this campground is in, partly because that's what nature intended and partly because it's been raining so much - a rain that was forecast to stop yesterday evening but instead continued most of the night.

And they were partly based on the feeling of claustrophobia I'm getting from this tiny campsite, which is barely long enough for my tiny RV and is completely surrounded by grasses or reeds or whatever those tall plants are that I've been seeing growing in marshes for the last umpteen states, and it's separated only by a narrow single-lane road from another huge mass of grasses, all of them 5'-8' high and impossible to see through.  I was completely closed in by this living wall.

All those things made me feel both completely isolated and completely vulnerable to whatever could come in from the road.  Not that any sane person would try it because there must be a huge marsh or swamp between the road and our site, big enough to support that mass of grasses.  But I still didn't want to stay another night in that spot.  Not when there were so many vacant campsites available.

I called the campground office, got permission to move to another site, and learned that they didn't know who might sell me propane.  I couldn't do any research on my own because I couldn't access the internet, but I remembered passing a Tractor Supply yesterday and thought I could at least call them if I could look up their phone number, so I drove back to the NAS area.

today's route
I got to Lexington Park, where the NAS gates are, or maybe it was California - they're right on top of each other - and parked in a shopping center and got busy on my computer.  I called the Tractor Supply who said no propane but suggested the Ace Hardware or the Burch Oil Co.  The Ace Hardware said no but another Ace about 20 miles down the road did.  Burch Oil said no, I should go to 3 Mules.  And I thought huh?  But sure enough, the internet said 3 Mules has 2 locations nearby and I called the closest one and he said sure, just pull up by the tank at the side of the building and he'd help me out.  I used to swear by the Yellow Pages, back in the olden days.  This is the traveler's version.

The critters and I ate lunch and walked around the parking lot and went down the road to a Harris Teeter grocery store where I got dog food and milk.  Then we went to 3 Mules, which turns out to be a small old hardware store with a young knowledgeable owner, or maybe the son of the owner.  Nice guy.  Filled my propane tank which was, as I thought, only .2 gallons shy of empty.

St. Mary's City
Old State House
reconstructed village
We drove back to the campground by way of St. Mary's City, location of Maryland's first capital.  The original state house was built in 1676 and has long been gone.  But archeologists found the original site and reconstructed the building in 1934 to celebrate Maryland's 300th anniversary (when the first European colonists arrived).  Now they've got a whole little village that's being rebuilt for tourists.

The dogs and I walked around that parking lot too, but I didn't want to take them on the grounds.  The weather has been raw all day and wasn't any better this afternoon: wind, rain, low clouds making the day look gray - just very unpleasant.  Not a day for outdoors sightseeing.

I saw some crepe myrtle, another sign I'm moving back toward the South.  Country music stations were all over the radio - many of them and almost nothing else.  Lucky I like it.

Confederate Memorial Cemetery
Federal monument

On the way back to the camp, I stopped at this Confederate memorial site, established long ago by the US and Maryland governments.
inscription on Fed. monument
State of Maryland monument

inscription on MD monument

This sign is posted at the entrance to the fenced-in site and describes steps taken during and after the Civil War to handle the enormous number of dead soldiers from the Point Lookout POW camp.  I can attest that the available land in this area isn't great - water bodies on both sides and swamp in between.  Yet apparently there were up to 20,000 POWs here at once, and more than 50,000 that were here at one point or another during the war.

The situation must have felt chaotic both for those in charge of the prisoners and for the medical staff.  Illnesses would have been inevitable, many must have been suffering from wounds, medical science was in its infancy.  It's surprising to me that only about 3,400 died under these circumstances.

Confederate Memorial Park
This site is next door to the government site, separated only by a band of trees and a point of view.  After reading the signs posted here, I got the impression the founders were motivated as much by outrage at not being allowed to fly the Confederate flag in the cemetery as by distress at the POW camp conditions.

At one point, the sign commentary compares the 52,000 POWs at this camp to the 45,000 POWs at Andersonville, the POW camp the Confederacy set up in Georgia.  What interests me is that the sign doesn't go on to point out that 13,000 people died in the Andersonville camp, compared to the 3,400 here at this camp.

What also interests me is the insistence of the signs that the motivation for the war was state's rights, but doesn't go on to note that the only right the states didn't have in the Union was the right to own slaves.

You can't see in my photo on the right that this plaza is surrounded by flagpoles flying the different flags that are shown on one of the signs.  What you can see is that the memorial's founders went all in on setting up this memorial.

Lots of informational signs that sound a little accusatory in places.  But, their signs, their point of view.

Point Lookout Lighthouse
I drove past the campground to see the Point Lookout Lighthouse that the map said is here.  I turned out to be much further down the road than I'd expected because I hadn't realized I'd be driving on a fairly narrow spit of land between the Patuxent River and the Potomac River, both of which empty here into the Chesapeake Bay.  You can imagine the value of this spot as a lookout point (get it? Point Lookout?) during the various wars.  In fact, the park literature says the Americans used it during both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 to watch for the British.  With Virginia part of the Confederacy, the Union Army of course used it during the Civil War.  One of the 3 forts they built then is still here.

The road led past a beach and recreation area that is probably heavily used in the summer.  This is also apparently an area used by birdwatchers during spring and fall migrations, though there weren't many birds in sight today, due to the nasty weather - just some gulls and a flock of Buffleheads (one of my favorite birds).
male and female Buffleheads
Back in the campground I first stopped off to visit the Civil War Museum they have there.  Sadly, the sign said closed for the season.  I'd hoped there'd at least be some interpretive signs outside but didn't see anything like that.

I went on and picked a campsite that's almost as short as the previous one, and is also backed by a wall of grasses, but it faces a large enough stretch or road that I can see a little distance in both directions and see the 2 vacant campsites opposite me.  So even thought the clouds are still so low they're almost on the ground, it feels much more open here and I hope to sleep better.
behind me

in front of me

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Maryland - Day 11 - a trek around Chesapeake Bay

Point Lookout State Park
Monday, 11 February 2019

today's route
The morning TV weather said it not only had snowed in northern Maryland but it was also continuing to snow there. But they also said the roads were clear, though with a few patches of ice, and the temperature was gradually going up.

It was raining in the southern part of both sides of the state, including where I was, and the rain was expected to take over from the snow statewide during the morning. I knew it would take me well over an hour just to get to Cambridge, the town on the Choptank River, and even as much as an hour from there to the Bay Bridge, which I had to cross to get to western Maryland. (The alternative was a land route that would require driving far enough north that I was certain to run into snow, so not an option.)

I decided to go ahead. If it looked too bad I could always turn around and come back. But I had great faith that I would be traveling slowly enough to benefit from the melting effects of rain and above-freezing temps. Which is what happened.

This time across, the Choptank was no longer peaceful and calm but instead gray and choppy. But the bridge was clear, which gave me encouragement.

By the side of the road I saw a flock of Canada Geese and I swear it looked like one of them was scouting out the traffic to find a break for them to cross the road. At this point the highway had 6 busy lanes so this was an unlikely event, but that’s what it looked like.

The farther north I went, the more I started seeing snow on the trees. I didn’t realize at first that’s what it was – it looked instead like a different species of pine with pretty silvery colored needles, like seeing a silver-leafed maple instead of the usual ones. It was only gradually that I realized I was seeing snow. And even more gradually I realized there was snow on the ground under the trees. No snow on the roadway, no ice, and traffic had clearly been driving with no trouble along that route all morning so I didn’t worry, but I did keep it in mind.

The Bay Bridge was an event that I would prefer not to repeat. It’s not The Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which is that extremely long one that runs from the Virginia end of the Delmarva Peninsula down to mainland Virginia. This bridge is called the Bay Bridge and is plenty long enough for me – much longer than it looked on the map.  I looked it up later and learned it's 4.3.  I knew it was long.

Driving that bridge was a bizarre experience. There were 3 lanes going westbound; I have no idea what was going the other way because my entire attention was focused on what I was doing. For one thing, I was worried at least a little about ice. And for another, I was worried about possible crosswinds. And for a third, I was worried about keeping in my lane because the road needed repaving and the patched pavement made driving jerky. For a fourth, I was worried because I’d picked the far right lane as usual, but then I worried about getting too close to the side railing of the bridge with my right-hand mirror (which has happened with trees and signs in the past), so I drove as close to the left lane line as I dared without cramping other traffic, which I probably did anyway, though they drove by me without honking or making gestures so I guess it was okay.

But the biggest problem turned out to be the sheer length. On other bridges I’ve had those same worries, but those bridges always ended relatively quickly. This one didn’t. It kept going on and on and on. I was too terrified to have any spare attention to give to looking ahead to see how much farther away the opposite shore was: I was 100% focused on what I was doing and nothing else. And after a bit of that, it was as if I were getting a little hypnotized and I started to think about not worrying but just to drive as if none of these problems existed, and to see that I might hit the side railing but so what. I’m not a suicidal person and these thoughts were at least as scary as the driving conditions. The whole thing was truly an event I wouldn’t like to repeat.

I now know that not only is it called the Bay Bridge, but it's also known as America's Scariest Bridge.  (It appears on a list of the 10 scariest bridges in the US.  I think it should rank #1.)

I found on the other side that my brain felt scrambled. I wasn’t shaking as I sometimes have been, like after those ghastly bridges over to Cape Cod. It was more as if my brain was shaking, but not my body. My driving plan had me turning off that highway onto Rt. 301 S to head south to Point Lookout, and once I’d done that, I stopped at the first shopping center I saw for a break. We’d already taken one earlier at Easton, but this time it was for me, not the dogs.

We ate lunch, we walked around the parking lot, we dried off afterwards because it was still raining, I calmed down, we got back on the road south.

We passed a place with a sign saying Summerseat Farm, founded 1678. That’s 340 years ago. It’s still a farm.

We passed through the towns of Hollywood and California. I swear. They’re about 5 miles apart.

We came to Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where the Patuxent River flows into the Chesapeake Bay. They have a Naval Air Museum there that I’d like to visit while I’m in the neighborhood. The NAS is next to the town of Lexington Park, which I’m guessing grew up to accommodate the base. Many of the businesses and housing looked to me like they were specifically catering to the military personnel and their families.

I passed a sign telling me I’m on one of America’s Byways: the Religious Freedom Byway.  I'm not going to take the time to follow it but I'm sure it'd be interesting to do it.

Not far from the campground, I passed a place labeled Confederate Memorial Park, separate but not far from a tall monument that didn’t have a label visible from the road. I’ll have to stop off there sometime.

We got to the campground by about 3:00, a 7½ hour drive which I regarded as remarkable considering the distance we drove – 220 miles with little of it on limited access highway. Most of it was 50 mph stretches interspersed with towns of 30 mph sections and traffic lights. We’d only stopped twice and were all ready for a break.

My plan is to stay very still for 24 hours here in the campground and recuperate a bit.

Maryland - Days 9 & 10

Pocomoke River State Park
Saturday, 9 & Sunday, 10 February 2019

The weather forecast for the weekend was lousy but Monday was supposed to be nice and that's when I'd planned to go to western Maryland, so I decided to stay in the campground these 2 days.

Turned out that both days were cold and breezy but not unpleasant, while Monday's forecast gradually changed to possible ice and "wintry mix" farther north, where I'll be driving.  You never know with the weather.  Always something to look forward to.

I spent all Saturday - honestly, hours and hours - trying to figure out where I'll go for the rest of the month.  There are only 4 campgrounds in all of western MD that are both open and will provide electric plug-ins for RVs.  Two of those are near Wash. DC/Annapolis/Baltimore, and both of those cost in the $65/night range - much more than anywhere I've been before.  A third campground is up in Hancock - the tiny "waist" of Maryland that comes just before that odd hook of MD's western part that loops around West Virginia and northern Virginia.  The fourth is a state campground down in the far southern end of the state on Chesapeake Bay.

That fourth one - Point Lookout State Park - is the lowest priced, but it's a 2 hour drive from there up to Annapolis, let alone Baltimore, so would be a difficult base for sightseeing.  The one in Hancock is also too far for central sights but seemed okay for checking out that western hook - and then I suddenly had a brain wave.

I checked back in my notebook at the research I'd done before I came on this trip and discovered that Maryland has parts of 2 mountain ranges, not just one.  I remembered the Allegheny Mountains that extend from Pennsylvania through Maryland down into West Virginia.  But I'd forgotten about the Blue Ridge Mountains, which I tend to think of as a southern range.  And they are, but they also run through Maryland up into lower Pennsylvania.  The Blue Ridge Mountains are far enough east that I would start to encounter them almost anywhere west of Washington, DC, which certainly includes Hancock.

Then I looked a lot more closely at the online maps and started seeing some serious topography, even along the interstates.  My drive through these same mountains in western PA was almost a year ago, but it'll take a lot longer than that for me to forget the sheer terror of driving those mountain passes.

So I went back online and searched for information about road grades on I-68, the main route through western MD, and discovered that long-haul truckers HATE it because of its steep grades.  They say Colorado has much worse (so much to look forward to) but these are really bad and many truckers avoid that road.

Which means that, given that it's still February and not July, I too will avoid that road and will - very regretfully - have to miss that whole western hook of the state.  In fact, I'd have to deal with the Blue Ridge Mountains just to get to the battlefield at Antietam - Sept. 17, 1862, almost 23,000 soldiers were killed there in the deadliest battle in a single day in US history.  The city of Frederick has a museum of Civil War medicine that I'd wanted to visit, but it too seems to be in the mountains.

It may well be that these places are in lowland areas and that the roads are just hills, not mountains.  But I'm seeing weather forecasts for snow and freezing temperatures on many of the coming days and can't really expect anything else this time of year.  So I'm sticking with the more southern and coastal areas for this trip.

It took me most of Saturday morning to figure all this out, and then I spent Saturday afternoon trying to come up with a plan to see most of what I want to see in Baltimore and Annapolis without breaking the bank at those campgrounds.

The current plan is to drive from here all the way around Chesapeake Bay to Point Lookout State Park - a 5½ hour drive for normal people - on Monday, stay there a few days, then go up to central MD when the weather is likely to be better.  That's what I came up with on Saturday.  Then Sunday morning the nice TV meteorologist said, sadly (she and I were both sad), that we can expect a band of snow in the northern part of the state, and a band of wintry mix around the Baltimore level, and moderate to heavy rain south of that, and also that freezing overnight temps tonight will bring the threat of icy roads in the morning.

I've already made and paid for my Point Lookout reservation so didn't want to also pay to stay here another night, so I figure I'll just wait and see what actually shows up and go from there.  At least I now have this Golden Age pass for Maryland state parks that will give me half-price lodging on weeknights, so if I do have to stay it'll just bring my cost for the one night at both campgrounds to the regular cost.

Friday evening after dark, a 2nd paying camper drove in.  I knew there were at least 2 people because someone directed the driver into the campsite with a flashlight.  A good illustration of why it's best to arrive before dark.  Then Saturday afternoon a 3rd paying camper came, parking between me and #2.  I thought, if it keeps going like this it'll get congested around here and I'm glad I'm leaving Monday.  But by early Sunday afternoon, both of them had gone and we were back to just me and the camp host.  Less crowded in the bathroom.  I can say from experience that the shower reduces its flow when someone flushes the toilet.  Which 2 someones did to me.  Way too crowded.

Saturday afternoon the dogs and I went back along the Nature Trail, and this time I took along the little pamphlet the campground offered that explained various stops along the trail.  The ground was much soggier this time than before because much of the frost has melted.  I really had to watch my step because I wasn't smart enough to wear my rubber boots.  Still it was a pleasant walk.

I learned that this area used to be homesteaded and cleared for farming.  But the Depression caused foreclosure of the farms, which the CCC then planted with loblolly pine, creating the Pocomoke River State Forest that this campground sits in.

I learned that cypress knees are part of the tree's root system that provides support for the cypress in the swamps.

I learned that softwood trees, like the pines, are fast-growing but will eventually be shaded out by oaks, maples and sweet gum that are hardwoods and slower-growing.

I learned that the plants I've been seeing everywhere that I thought might be some sort of azalea are actually mountain laurel.  I'm used to the Texas version, which we were always told isn't really a mountain laurel anyway, and that's nothing like these plants.  I learned that real mountain laurel likes the damp acid soils near the cypress swamp (but didn't learn why it's called mountain laurel when it prefers swamps).  I learned that it grows gnarly branches that tangle together and is great for birds and other wildlife but not so much for people.

I don't know what the dogs learned, but we all had a nice walk.

On Sunday I got a million chores done: made a pot of Brunswick Stew (learning that accidentally-bought creamed corn doesn't work as well as kernel corn) and cornbread; cleaned the bathroom; updated my blog; took a shower; did a big load of laundry; washed the dishes; figured my driving route for Monday.  By bedtime, I was pooped but things were clean, a good trade.

And I won't even know until tomorrow morning whether we'll leave or not.  Depends on the weather.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Maryland - Day 8 - St. Michaels

Pocomoke River State Park
Friday, 8 February 2019
today's route
It may not seem like this route was all that far, but it took me nearly 2 hours of driving to get to St. Michaels, home of the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  After several days of comparatively decent weather, I chose today for this drive and got overcast skies and plenty of wind all day.  That's the way it goes sometimes.  It is winter, after all.

The first hour of the drive was in some heavy mist/fog and I had to go carefully to be sure I wasn't overtraveling my stopping distance.  But after I passed Salisbury, the clouds started lifting and the drive was just gray, not foggy.

Maryland has a $1500 fine for littering.  I don't think I've seen any state where it's anything close to this high.  They also seem to encourage the adopt-a-highway program because I see signs all over where businesses and people claim they're cleaning.

I saw a Red-winged Blackbird, the first I've seen in months.
Red-winged Blackbird
I was on Rt. 50 most of the day, and part of it says it's dedicated to Harriet Tubman.  As I drove on, I discovered that she was actually born not far from where I was driving, that they have an Underground Railroad visitor center near there, and there's a Harriet Tubman Byway with markers for places important to the Underground Railroad.  It made me wish I had more time and better weather for checking some of this out.

Local controversy: Gov. Hogan (mentioned as a 2020 GOP challenger to Pres. Trump) had previously ordained that Maryland schools should wait to open until after Labor Day.  It was always that way in Texas when I was growing up - relic of the days when kids had to help their families bring in the crops - so I couldn't see why that would cause fuss.  But it turns out the gov. did it so families would have a longer time together to go to Ocean City (America's Finest Family Resort) and spend money.  The Legislature is looking at giving  control over the start dates back to local authorities.  People are in an uproar.

St. Michaels
St. Michaels was laid out in the 1770s and incorporated in 1804, and it looks just about that old.  It's tiny and on the water and charming: in 2007 it was voted #8 of the Top Ten Romantic Escapes in the US by Coastal Living Magazine.  When I was there, every upright post was plastered with large red valentines saying things like Jim ♥ Karen, and I'm guessing it's a local fundraiser or something.

As tiny as it is, it's had plenty of brushes with fame.  James Michener wrote much of Chesapeake here.  Clara's Heart and Wedding Crashers were both filmed here.  And both Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld own estates near here.

Shipbuilding was its first industry, and there were 6 shipbuilders here by the War of 1812.  Post-that-war, though, shipbuilding waned here and gradually oystering took its place.  Some of the town is built on what used to be marsh until it got filled by oyster shells - as much as 10' deep of them.  Must be interesting trying to garden here.

St. Michaels bills itself as The Town That Fooled The British, a designation that seems to be built as much on local myth and wishful thinking as reality, but it's true the British attacked it unsuccessfully during the War of 1812.  The local story goes that the townspeople knew they were coming and instituted a local blackout of lights in buildings, then hung lanterns at the tops of boat masts and trees, fooling the British into overshooting the town, sparing all the buildings.

As far as I'm concerned, St. Michaels' current claim to fame is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.  I'd expected a large building with exhibits but instead found multiple buildings, each with a different story to tell about life on the bay.

This is a good museum for little kids, I think.  They encourage people to climb up into the lighthouse and see how the lighthouse keeper lived.  There are interactive exhibits all over the museum.

skipjack at the dock
A skipjack is the boat developed for use in oystering in the
internet photo of a skipjack
Chesapeake and, believe it or not, is still being used in the industry today.  I couldn't really get a decent angle on the one at the museum but there's a good photo and more information on this Wikipedia page.  They are the last working boats under sail in the US.  They evolved when the oyster population began to decline due to overharvesting, and the big expensive boats that had been used were no longer cost-effective.  A skipjack can be built quickly and easily almost anywhere (no boatyard needed), so were much cheaper.

I learned that the Chesapeake Bay is the greatest oyster factory on earth, when properly managed.  In fact, it's one of the richest, most productive environments on earth.  (They don't go in for modesty at this museum.)  The Bay is the US's largest estuary system, with 11,684 miles of shoreline and 2,700 species of plants and animals.  It's 200 miles long and has an average depth of only 21'.  Makes me wonder about boat keels here.

Seafood harvesting is now a year-round activity.  Blue crabs are harvested when the water is warm and the crabs are active.  Oystering is done in the cold months when they oysters taste better.  Eeling is done during spring and fall migration, with most of the catch exported to Europe and Asia.  And fishing used to be seasonal but is done all year now.  Fishers in the Chesapeake Bay are known as watermen, rather than fishermen as everywhere else.

Back in the first part of the 1900s, the men and older boys left town to go dredging for oysters in October and were gone until Christmas, then left again until March.  This left the women to do everything else which, in those times, included hauling water from the well, caring for the children, providing food for the family - including butchering the hogs, taking care of everything that had to be done during the winter months, all without electricity or running water.  I know I'm not tough enough to do all that.

Sharptown Barge

The sign notes that these boats were made to be "roomy" to hold the catch, but the boat here is only 22' x 5' - my RV is bigger than that.

It was at this point that my camera's battery ran out of juice.  Coincidentally, at not long after this point, I found I was so cold I wasn't interested in the exhibits.  All I wanted to do was get back to the RV to warm up.  This museum would be fascinating in the warmer months, there's so much to see and I couldn't really take advantage of it.  Even though many exhibits are inside a building, the buildings aren't heated and I was really getting chilled.  Too bad.

We went from St. Michaels back down the road to Easton.  That road - Rt. 33 - is dedicated to Frederick Douglass, who spent some of his childhood in this area, for a while in St. Michaels.  Interesting that the same area produced both Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman.

Easton is itself an old town and is now working on preserving some its historic character.

Back down the highway toward the campground I once again crossed the Choptank River, which is a lovely river.  It's huge and, that day, very calm.  The bridge was lined with Black-backed Gulls - very large gulls - 30". 
Great Black-backed Gull
A woman I talked to in Easton said she'd grown up in this area but lived her adult life in New Jersey and worked in Manhatten.  She moved back here 3 years ago and said she'd met more people in those 3 years than in the 30 years she lived up north.  She said people down here are more relaxed, that life is more peaceful living by the water.  She said she's much happier here.